Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Iran holds naval missile drills amid US tensions

This photo released on January 12, 2021, by the Iranian Army, shows Iran-made warship Makran prior. (Iranian Army via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s navy began a short-range missile drill in the Gulf of Oman on Wednesday, state TV reported, amid heightened regional tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program and a US pressure campaign against the Islamic Republic.

The two-day missile drill was being held in the gulf’s southeastern waters and two new Iranian-made warships joined the exercise: The missile-launching Zereh, or “armor,” and the Makran, a logistics vessel with a helicopter pad named for a coastal region in southern Iran.

President Donald Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the US from Iran’s nuclear deal, in which Tehran had agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Trump cited Iran’s ballistic missile program among other issues in withdrawing from the accord.

When the US then ramped up sanctions, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned the deal’s limits on its nuclear development as a series of escalating incidents pushed the two countries to the brink of war at the beginning of the year.

This photo released on January 12, 2021, by the Iranian Army, shows Iran-made warship Makran. (Iranian Army via AP)

In recent weeks, Iran has increased its military drills. On Saturday, the paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps held a naval parade in the Persian Gulf and a week earlier Iran held a massive drone maneuver across half the country.

Also last week, Iran seized a South Korean oil tanker and its crew members in the Gulf, and continues to hold the vessel at an Iranian port. The Islamic Republic has apparently sought to increase its leverage over Seoul ahead of negotiations over billions of dollars in Iranian assets frozen in South Korean banks tied to US sanctions on Iran.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of having secret ties with the terrorist al-Qaeda network and imposed new sanctions on several senior Iranian officials. Iran has denied the accusation.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday said in a televised speech during a cabinet meeting that US sanctions will fail. “We are witnessing the failure of a policy, the maximum pressure campaign, economic terrorism,” he said.